Most visitors to Washington DC make a beeline for the city's famous museums and memorials, which are quite excellent, interesting, and above all, FREE. Unlike most cities where museum visits can cost nearly $20, this is quite an amazing bargain for budget travelers who can easily spend days without shelling out a single penny.
Unfortunately for me, who was in DC on a quick Labor Day getaway, the one art I was intent on seeing was housed in the Phillips Collection, a private museum nestled in tony Dupont Circle just by Embassy Row. Being private, the museum was an exception to the rule and does charge admission to view the collection.
Not that it mattered to me. My main objective was to see Renoir's masterpiece, "Luncheon of the Boating Party", in its full glory. A full decade after developing an interest in French impressionist painters, and having viewed master pieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, among others, in the USA and Europe, this one painting was the only one left unchecked on my "must-see" list.
Upon arrival at the Phillips Collection, it turned out that due to a small fire a few days prior, the museum was only partially open. A bit alarmed, I asked hopefully, "Can I still see the Renoir?". Fortunately, the Luncheon of the Boating Party was housed in the building that wasn't affected by the fire, and yes, I could see it. Oh, and by the way, due to the incident admission was being waved. Hooray!
Although pleased at this good news, I was also concerned enough to inquire about the impact on the museum's collection. The staff quickly assured me that none of their works had been damaged, but some offices were. Whew!
It was a slow Saturday at the museum, so I had the painting to myself for a few minutes. The Luncheon of the Boating Party depicts thirteen of Renoir's Parisian circle, all of whom appear exceedingly young, attractive, and carefree, having lunch at a restaurant on the banks of the river Seine. They had just spent a day boating on the river on a nice summer day, as evidenced by some of the men still wearing their boating attire.
The vibrant colors, from the orange striped awning, the yellow straw hats, the rich blue tones of the dresses, the black top hats, and the almost-empty wine glasses make this a visibly arresting snapshot of Parisian leisure. At the same time, the eyes are drawn to the five women in the painting, who are vastly outnumbered and yet around whom the action revolves - from playing with a dog, staring seductively and engaging in conversation with attentive males.
Click on the thumbnails above to see the large versions, especially the top left one if you wish to see how Renoir has managed to insert his portrait into his master piece. So, in reality there are fourteen people in the painting, and not thirteen, if the artist is included.
Even cooler, instead of renting one of those museum guides to listen to commentary, the Phillips Collection lets you do the same with your cell phone. Just call the number listed and follow the instructions, and you will be transported to 19th century Parisian high society. Even from the comfort of your tiny cubicle, as I can personally attest to.
P.S. For more about Luncheon of the Boating Party, download this PDF. And if these Impressionist brush strokes seem oddly familiar, chances are you came across the painting in the French film "Amelie", where it played a prominent role.
Feel free to contact me at hellonewman (at) gmail (dot) com
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